Creature Feature: Pickleweed

Pickleweed (Salicornia Pacifica) is a low growing, succulent plant that dominates the lower salt marsh. It is specially adapted to use saltwater as its main source of water. It is an “accumulator” meaning salt is removed and stored in vacuoles. As these become full, they become red and drop off the plant, removing the salt. Pickleweed is an important source of food and shelter for migrating birds and endangered species, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse or Belding’s Savannah Sparrow.

These plants are very vulnerable to human interference with their habitat. Although pickleweed can withstand short periods of flooding, it will die under prolonged immersion. The construction of structures such as houses and transportation corridors disrupts natural flooding cycles leading to an overpopulation of pickleweed, which is disruptive to the marsh ecosytem. In Humboldt, invasive cordgrass (Spartina Densiflora) has infested an estimated 90% of salt marshes in Humboldt Bay and the adjacent Eel and Mad River estuaries where it outcompetes and displaces the native picklegrass.

[ID: Three photos of flowering pickleweed plants. Pickleweed leaves are reduced and flush with the stem, making the plant look like a little cactus or succulent. The tips of the stems are dark purple, and the flowers are tiny and light yellow. End ID]

Sources: Salicornia pacifica–Wikipedia, Spartina Invasion and Management–U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Pickleweed–the Nature Colective

Photos: Jerry Kirkhart and Peter Pearsall/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and
Susannah Anderson
on Flickr